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Drug Free Zones in Texas: Serious Issue for Defendants Arrested for Drug Crimes

If you have to be arrested for drug possession in Texas, then try and make sure you’re not busted in a designated “Drug Free Zone.” Why? If you are caught with illegal drugs by law enforcement in a Drug Free Zone, then you’re going to be facing more serious and severe sentencing and more time behind bars than if you were arrested just down the street or even a few yards down the road from the Drug Free Zone.

University of Texas – Dallas Campus is a Drug Free Zone.


What is a Drug Free Zone?

Drug Free Zones are areas specifically designed under either federal statute or state law as specific places where either Congress or the Texas Legislature has decided to enforce drug crimes even more strictly than other locations. Most people who are aware of Drug Free Zones know them generally to be school campuses but Texas Drug Free Zones cover much more than the local elementary school.

In Texas, a Drug Free Zone is defined by Texas Health and Safety Code Section 481.134 as being either:

1. Any location that is within 1000 feet of premises owned, rented, or leased by

      • an institution of higher learning,
      • the premises of a public or private youth center, or
      • a playground;

2. or any location that is within 300 feet of the premises of

      • a public swimming pool
      • video arcade facility or
      • on a school bus.

Punishment is More Serious for Drug Free Zone Arrests

Thus, if you have marijuana in your pocket on the SMU campus, for example, or at a video arcade at the mall, or even at the neighborhood swimming pool, then you’re at risk of turning what might have been a simple and small drug arrest into a much more serious felony charge.

Why? If someone is arrested for a drug crime within a Drug Free Zone in Dallas or elsewhere in Texas, then under Tex. Health & Safety Code Section 481.134(b), the punishment becomes more severe. From the statute:

(b) An offense otherwise punishable as a state jail felony under Section 481.112, 481.113, 481.114, or 481.120 is punishable as a felony of the third degree, and an offense otherwise punishable as a felony of the second degree under any of those sections is punishable as a felony of the first degree, if it is shown at the punishment phase of the trial of the offense that the offense [was committed in a Drug Free Zone].

Federal Drug Free Zone Laws

There are also federal laws that have been in place for many years now that create harsh penalties for those who are arrested for drug crimes in a federally-defined Drug Free Zone. These are separate and distinct laws from the Texas statutes, based upon federal drug laws, and come into play during the sentencing phase of a federal criminal proceeding.

For instance, the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841) carries additional punishment for anyone who is convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute an illegal drug. Here, the federal punishment can be TRIPLED at the sentencing hearing if the defendant was arrested in a Drug Free Zone.

Consider the Controlled Substances Act Section 860a, where methaphetamine is involved:

Whoever violates section 841 (a)(1) of this title by manufacturing or distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, methamphetamine or its salts, isomers or salts of isomers on premises in which an individual who is under the age of 18 years is present or resides, shall, in addition to any other sentence imposed, be imprisoned for a period of any term of years but not more than 20 years, subject to a fine, or both.

What To Do If You Are Arrested for Drug Possession in a Texas Drug Free Zone

If you face any type of drug charge, you are facing a permanent criminal record and a different future: your future jobs, education, military service, scholarships, memberships in various clubs and organizations, and more can be forever changed with a single drug bust. In Texas, drug crimes are serious matters with prosecutors – and the more potent the drug, then the more dangerous the possibility that you’ll be faced with the threat of serious jail or prison time.

It’s never a mistake to get an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer on your side as soon as you can after you’ve been arrested for a drug crime in the State of Texas.

This is especially true if you are arrested in a Drug Free Zone. Many defense lawyers are suspicious of Drug Free Zone arrests and often, these busts will warrant additional investigation.


Some argue that Drug Free Zones can be manipulated by law enforcement for the reason that an arrest within a Drug Free Zone makes for a bigger bust and potentially a bigger win for the District Attorney’s Office than the identical arrest outside a Drug Free Zone. It’s not farfetched to consider that police officers, ready to arrest their target, will wait until he or she is clearly on campus, for example, before making their arrest — even though they could have just as easily arrested the defendant at their apartment or at the coffee shop just a half hour beforehand.

Even worse, maybe they wait until the defendant walks alongside an elementary school on the way to his bus stop to arrest their target, where he is technically within 1000 feet of the kids but never intended to visit the school and has no connection with it. He’s within the Drug Free Zone with the drugs? Then he’s facing a whole different sentencing range now.

Drug Free Zone Arrests are powerful. An arrest in a Drug Free Zone means the prosecutor has more cards in his hand when it comes time for plea bargaining. The defendant has more risk if he or she decides to go to trial rather than negotiate a plea deal.

If you’ve been arrested on a drug charge within a Drug Free Zone, then call a lawyer. It’s a wise thing to do.


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